Tuesday, March 17, 2015
When I started looking at property in Mexico back in 2007, I was attracted to areas that had a vague familiarity with what I knew of houses up north.
I knew I did not want to live in a gated community. But I was interested in a development with straight streets and orderly rows of houses in bright color.
I blush at that idea now that I have a few years of living here under my belt. But it did reflect my thoughts back then.
There is a neighborhood in Barra de Navidad that met all of the criteria. Several decades ago, a developer purchased and took control of a large tract of land previously occupied by Mexican families. The families were moved north into the neighborhood where I now live, and the new neighborhood was platted and developed. Part of the development, of course, was sewer and water.
The plan was that the developer would establish a homeowners association and fees for garbage, water, and sewer (an amount far below what the Mexican neighbors were paying) would be paid to the association until the development had enough homeowners that the full project could be turned over to our local county -- Cihuatlán. That was in the 1980s.
When enough lots were sold, the developer entered into negotiations with the authorities in Cihuatlán to accept responsibility for the neighborhood. An agreement was finally signed in the 1990s. But it was never implemented.
In the interim, the homeowners association fell into disuse, a decreasing share of homeowners paid their annual assessments, and the developer continued to pay for the garbage, sewage, and water systems. The developer also kept pressing Cihuatlán to implement the agreement.
The situation came to a head at the start of last year. The developer threatened to shut off the electricity that runs the pumps for the water and sewer systems, and to cease any further maintenance on either system.
Nothing gets people's attention as much as threatening them with toilet failure.
A group of volunteers started working on repairing the pumps for the water system. But that was not going to keep the electricity on. So, the homeowners started meeting to set out an action plan.
The president of Cihuatlán and representatives of the developer met with the homeowners. As a result of that meeting, Cihuatlán started providing garbage service. And the developer continued to pay the electricity bill.
But the underlying problem remained unresolved. The power could be shut off to the pumps at any time.
What seems to be holding up the agreement is that Cihuatlán will not accept its responsibilities under the agreement unless the developer hands over the wells that currently provide water to the neighborhood.
That appears to be mere posturing. The wells belong to the developer. And they are not for sale. The county has no personnel to run the wells. Due to the local political system, there is no expertise to operate these deep wells. But, if that issue is kept alive, it gets Cihuatlán off of the political hook.
While all of this has been going on, a group of homeowner volunteers has requested voluntary assessments from the other homeowners to keep the sewage and water flowing. That has included purchasing replacement parts, re-designing a portion of the sewer system, and hiring a pumper truck to clear clogged sewer lines.
When the system fails to work properly, no water goes to homes, and sewer seeps out into the laguna.
Now that the immediate crisis is over, many of the homeowners have allowed their attention to wander elsewhere. But the problem is not going to go away. The volunteers can keep the system running for a limited period, but there needs to be another solution -- or solutions.
The homeowners have already concluded a homeowner association will not work. That seems to be a wise conclusion. Under Mexican law, there is little enforcement power invested in such associations.
A lot of people seem to believe, as a municipality, Cihuatlán bears the responsibility to provide the services. That, most likely, is not going to happen. After twenty years of arguing, nothing has really changed.
Cihuatlán's recalcitrance may offer the neighborhood an opportunity to be creative. How about forming a private corporation to provide services? Water could be purchased from the developer. Payment might be an issue. But it is a detail compared to the pending problem.
The sewer system could be operated by a completely separate system. This is frontier Mexico. Ideas do not need to be government-centric.
But that is only part of the problem. What happens with the sewer when it enters the system? How is it treated?
I purposely chose to live outside of the developed neighborhood because of these ongoing problems. It turns out I may have my own issues.
Later this week, I will discuss some thoughts about sewer treatment.
See what happens when I end up with water on the brain -- and in the streets?